Hurricane Irene made three landfalls in the United States over the weekend, becoming the first hurricane to come ashore in the U.S. mainland since Ike in 2008. Irene made its initial landfall near Cape Lookout on the Outer Banks of North Carolina at around 12:00 UTC on August 27 with sustained winds of around 85 mph (140 kmph), equivalent to a category 1 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The storm then made its second landfall as a slightly weakened category 1 hurricane (with sustained winds of 75 mph) near Little Egg Inlet in New Jersey at 09:30 UTC on August 28. By 13:00 UTC on the same day, Irene made its third landfall as a tropical storm in New York City, where maximum sustained winds were estimated at 65 mph (110 kmph). Irene’s center then moved inland through the New England area before becoming a post-tropical storm near the United States/Canadian border.
Early estimates suggest Hurricane Irene’s cost to the (re)insurance industry is likely to range from USD3 billion to in excess of USD7 billion. AIR Worldwide expects insured losses from Irene to onshore properties in the United States to be between USD3 billion and USD6 billion. However, AIR added there is still some uncertainty with respect to the actual parameters of this storm and its impact, meaning the 90 percent confidence interval ranges from USD2.3 billion to USD7.2 billion. AIR Worldwide earlier estimated that insured losses in the Caribbean from Irene are expected to be between USD500 million and USD1.1 billion. The Consumer Federation of America, meanwhile, said insurance payouts for Irene’s storm-related damage could top USD7 billion (USD5 billion in personal claims from wind damage and another USD2 billion in claims from flooding). EQECAT has so far announced losses for the damage incurred in the Carolinas and the Caribbean. The firm estimates damage in North and South Carolina could cost insurers between USD200 million to USD400 million while the losses in the Caribbean are estimated to be between USD300 million and USD600 million. EQECAT has yet to release its loss estimate for the northeast coast of the United States. The Insurance Information Institute’s Bob Hartwig said he is expecting an insured loss of between USD3 billion and USD5 billion from Irene while Kinetic Analysis said it expects insurers to payout between USD3 billion and USD4 billion.
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Widespread damage has been reported across the United States east coast as Irene’s hurricane force winds affected coastal North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey, according to the NHC. Instances of wind damage in areas hit by hurricane force winds included roof damage to buildings and downed trees and power lines, according to reports. In New Jersey and further north, reports said the worst of the damage appeared to be the result of flooding, meaning much of the flood-related damage may be covered by the government-backed National Flood Insurance Program rather than private (re)insurers, reports said. Irene brought more than a foot of rain to some parts of the northeast coast, and flooding remains a concern. The rural state of Vermont was particularly badly hit by the floods as floodwaters washed away bridges and swamped several communities in what officials are describing as the state’s worst natural disaster since 1927. Flood warnings remain in effect for parts of the New England region.
Irene’s impact was felt across much of the United States east coast, affecting around 65 million people in ten states, reports said. At least 38 people across eleven states have been killed and millions of households are still without power (more than 6 million households were without power at the height of the storm). Irene’s severe weather prompted state of emergency declarations in North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The NHC said Irene swept through North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and the New Jersey area as a category 1 hurricane, bringing powerful winds and heavy rain to some areas. North Carolina’s governor, Beverly Perdue, said the storm inflicted significant damage along the state’s coastal areas. Reports said Irene brought a 6-10 foot (1.8-3 meter) storm surge to parts of North Carolina and “massive flooding” was caused by rainfall of up to 20 inches (510 millimeters). Severe flooding has been reported in North Carolina’s Inner Banks, specifically along the Pamlico and Albemarle sounds. Significant beach erosion along the Outer Banks has also been reported. Officials said more than 200 water rescues took place in Northampton, Beaufort and Craven counties and more than 7,000 people have taken residence in shelters across the state.
There have also been some reports of wind damage in North Carolina, as winds of up to 85 mph (140 kmph) ripped roofs off homes and businesses, according to reports. Power lines were toppled and more than 1 million people lost power in North Carolina and neighboring Virginia, with utility companies warning it will be several days before power can be restored to the areas worst hit. Reports said the North Carolina counties of Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Hyde, Jones, Nash, Northampton, Pamlico, Tyrell and Vance were badly hit. Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) survey teams have been dispatched over the affected area to assess the damage. Following a preliminary assessment, FEMA has reported significant flooding, downed trees and damaged highways throughout eastern North Carolina. Severe damage by sand and water to roads, highways and bridges has stranded thousands on the Outer Banks.
After battering North Carolina, Irene subsequently took aim on the densely populated northeast coastline. More than 12,000 flights in the region were cancelled. The NHC said hurricane conditions battered Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. Widespread power cuts and damage were reported in each state. Reports said the Richmond metropolitan area in Virginia was hard hit with power outages and damage from downed trees. Property and infrastructure damage was reported elsewhere in Virginia, although officials said it was not as bad as they feared. Irene’s powerful winds and heavy rain also caused damage and disruption in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. Widespread power cuts were reported in each state and significant flooding hit New Jersey. There, rivers and streams are expected to reach record or near-record flood levels as water levels reach their peak over the next few days. New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, said he expects the damage in New Jersey alone to be in “the billions of dollars”.
In New York City, 370,000 people living in vulnerable areas were told to leave their homes in an unprecedented mandatory evacuation ahead of the storm’s arrival. However, reports said the city was largely spared Irene’s wrath. Authorities allowed evacuated residents to return home after Irene had passed and the city’s subways and air travel slowly regained service the following day. While damage to New York City was less than feared, not all parts of the city were spared. More than 400,000 residents on Long Island, New York, were still without power on August 29, and serious flooding eroded shorelines at some popular beaches in the area. Firefighters in Staten Island also rescued dozens of people trapped by floodwaters. In Queens, New York, part of a pier collapsed and two summer homes were destroyed by Irene. According to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, no confirmed deaths or serious injuries from Irene have been reported in the city.
Areas in upstate New York experienced more damaging effects from Irene, according to reports. In the Adirondacks tourist region, heavy rain and flooding closed roads and swept away several buildings. National Guard soldiers were deployed to help clean up damage in the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys, where hundreds of thousands of homes were without power. The Mohawk River is projected to crest at Schenectady, which could threaten the area’s drinking water filtration system. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged people to use extreme caution in the Schoharie Valley and Mohawk River area.
Severe flooding occurred elsewhere in Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Vermont was particularly badly hit as floodwaters inundated all major towns in the state, including the capital Montpelier. Reports said two major rivers in the state (Otter Creek and the Winooski River) are at the highest flooding levels ever recorded. Officials said several other rivers in the state have still not reach their peak despite already being significantly above flood stage level. Hundreds of people were forced to evacuate their homes in Montpelier and severe damage has been reported to the state’s infrastructure, with dozens of roads and bridges destroyed. Reports said two-thirds of the state has been inundated in what authorities are describing as the state’s worst natural disaster since 1927.
Irene also dumped heavy rain that elevated rivers to flood stages in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Officials in Connecticut have reported high waters on the Connecticut River near Thompsonville and the Farmington River in Simsbury that are expected to flood roads and homes in low lying areas. With over 9 inches (230 millimeters) of rain in some areas, many other rivers and tributaries in Connecticut are expected to crest in the next few days. In Massachusetts, meanwhile, Irene’s 60 mph (100 kmph) winds downed trees and power lines across the state, cutting power to more than 500,000 people at the peak of the storm. State utilities have warned it could be a week before power is fully restored. Parts of central and western Massachusetts were also soaked with up to 8 inches (200 millimeters) of rain, prompting the closure of bridges and roads in the area. Canada has also been affected by Irene’s severe weather. One person has been killed in northeastern Canada and more than 200,000 people lost power in the city of Quebec after being subjected to wind gusts of up to 60 mph (100 kmph).
Earlier, Irene caused significant damage as it moved through the Caribbean. Parts of the Bahamas were devastated by winds of up to 115 mph while Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos and other Caribbean territories were also hit. AIR Worldwide estimates that insured losses in the Caribbean from Hurricane Irene will be between USD500 million and USD1.1 billion. AIR added it expects the Bahamas to account for more than 60 percent of the loss. This estimate includes wind and precipitation-induced flood damage to insured onshore residential, commercial and industrial properties (and their contents), vehicles and business interruption losses. EQECAT, meanwhile, said it estimates Irene caused insured losses of between USD300 million to USD600 million in Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos (with losses of up to USD400 million in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands and up to USD200 million in Puerto Rico). These estimates came as the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility said preliminary model calculations suggest Irene will not trigger payouts from the fund.
Sources: National Hurricane Center, WSI, Associated Press, Reuters News, Agence France Presse, AIR Worldwide, EQECAT, BBC News, CNN News, Insurance Day
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